Sacred Heart Trojan running back Alec Gotro (4) tries to find room against Hanson, while Jacob Castille (42) leads the way in a game earlier this season. The Trojans start the playoffs tomorrow night. (Gazette photo Nick Jagneaux)
Phases I and II are now complete.
With the beginning of the post-season Friday, Sacred Heart will enter Phase III of their very successful football campaign when they host the Eagles of Ouachita Christian in the first round of the LHSAA Division IV playoffs. Game time is set for 7 p.m.
The Trojans have accomplished most of what they set out to do in 2017, and now hope to add to those accomplishments in the post-season.
“We are finished with Phase I and Phase II of the season,” stated Sacred Heart head coach Josh Harper. “Now it is time for Phase III. One of our goals at the beginning of the year was to host a first round playoff game. We have accomplished that.”
“This week we are looking to check off another goal, advancing to the next round,” Harper continued. “We know it will be a dog fight against Ouachita Christian, but I truly believe we are ready for that challenge”
Sacred Heart comes in as the No. 8 seed in the Division IV brackets with an overall record of 8-2. The Trojans have relied heavily on the legs of junior JT Harper, their leading rusher. Harper has carried the ball 140 times for more than 1,300 yards and has scored exactly 20 touchdowns.
When he is not toting the pigskin, junior wingback Alec Gotro and junior quarterback Wesley Launey have been able to pick up the slack. Launey has also thrown for over 700 yards this season, while Gotro has picked up close to 350 receiving yards.
“Those three guys (Haper, Gotro and Launey) have done a tremendous job all season long making things happen for us offensively,” said Harper. “But, it has been the play of the offensive line that has been a true difference maker for us. When our offensive front has been on their game, our backs are able to use their athleticism to produce big plays. Once again that will be a key for us going into tomorrow night.”
Not to be outdone, the Sacred Heart defense has been a major player in the Trojan’s success this season also. In the last three outings, Sacred Heart has surrendered only 35 points, an average of 11.7 points per game.
“When you look back on the regular season, our defense has really been steady all year long,” commented Harper. “You can see how we have matured each and every week, especially the way we make adjustments to anything thrown at us. Right now we are playing with a ton of heart and emotion on that side of the ball.”
Ouachita Christian comes in as the No. 9 seed and finished the year with an overall record of 7-3. The Eagles average 33.9 points per game on offense but give up 26.1 points per game on defense, a huge number that the Trojans hope to exploit. Ouachita Christian is led by running back Will Fitzhugh, who has 610 yards on 105 carries and has scored nine times. Quarterback Turner Carr has thrown for 956 yards and 10 touchdowns.
“They give up a ton of points and big plays,” said Harper. “Hopefully, we can take advantage of that. I think we have more speed than them, and they play five or six players both ways. We are going into this game like we did last week, spread them out and get them to chase us sideline to sideline and then hopefully we can pound them with our single wing stuff.”
With that being said, Harper is not dismissing the physicality of the Eagles.
“Ouachita Christian is a very physical team,” stated Harper. “They are big up front and try to outmuscle you. They are going to hit you in the mouth, so we have to be able to punch them right back and match their physicality.”
“The biggest thing for us, is how we respond if they get up on us,” Harper continued. “We cannot do like we did in the second half against Opelousas Catholic and drop our heads when someone gets the advantage. This will be a thigh hard fought game. I think whoever wins the turnover battle and the field position battle will come out on top.”
Hopefully for Sacred Heart, history will not repeat itself when it comes to facing Ouachita Christian. The Trojans and the Eagles have met twice in the playoffs, once in 1989 and the other in 2012, with Ouachita Christian winning both of those contests.
However, this is a new season, and the Trojans are a battled tested group that is hungry to own Phase III.